Jeff McDonald
September 29, 2016

Gov. Jerry Brown signed five bills Thursday aimed at reform for the California Public Utilities Commission and called on the agency to take additional steps to impose changes of its own.

“These important reforms cannot wait another year,” Brown said in a statement announcing his support for the package of bills. “To that end, I am calling on the commission to use its existing authority to take immediate action. Together, these administrative reforms and legislative acts will bring much needed improvement to the commission.”

The signings came almost a year after Brown vetoed six bills that would have imposed a different set of reforms on the commission, which oversees power companies, telecommunications firms, passenger carriers and other public services. He said those bills contained contradictory provisions and did not work as a package.

Brown’s action this week follows a report last week by the California State Auditor that found the commission has not guarded against the appearance of improper influence in its decision-making and failed to fully disclose important communications between its regulators and external parties.

The legislation signed by the governor requires commissioners to disclose and report private, or ex parte, communications with utility executives and other interested parties in rate-setting cases.

Some consumer groups called for an outright ban on such communications but the governor supports strong disclosure in the interest of not stifling important stakeholder voices.

The new laws also require more information to be made publicly available, establish the position of safety advocate and authorize the Attorney General’s Office to bring enforcement actions in Superior Court against commission employees who violate ex parte rules.

The laws also call for future commission meetings to be scheduled around the state so more people can attend.

The reform package that made it to the governor’s desk excluded certain provisions of an agreement reached in June, when Brown and key legislators announced a deal to fundamentally restructure the commission.

In addition to steering many commission responsibilities to other state agencies, the agreement called for Superior Court review of commission denials of public records requests. It also called on the commission to work to relocate tons of nuclear waste from the San Diego County coastline.

Even though those proposals won the initial support of Brown and top lawmakers, they did not make it through the statehouse.

The governor’s signature on five commission-reform bills was largely welcomed by lawmakers and consumer advocates, although some feel more needs to be done.

“The reforms approved by the governor today will ensure commissioners disclose their private meetings with utility executives and will result in heavy penalties for those who violate the rules,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who co-wrote one of the bills Brown signed.

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